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Eurostar is said to have secured a deal with its lenders to refinance a debt pile worth £400m. Business,…

   News / 19 Apr 2021

Published: 19 April 2021

By Suzanne Evans, Director, Political Insight

London stocks finished higher on Friday, with the top-flight FTSE 100 index trading above 7,000 for the first time since February 2020. Sterling was also trading stronger, last gaining 0.28% on the dollar to change hands at $1.3826 and advancing 0.21% against the euro to €1.1544. Market sentiment was boosted by both the solid Chinese growth, as well as Thursday's positive retail sales and jobless claims numbers from the US. The FTSE 100 ended the session up 0.52% at 7,019.53, and the FTSE 250 was 0.22% firmer at 22,522.18.
The latest figures from NatWest's UK Small Business Recovery PMI reveal small business activity in the UK jumped for first time in six months during March, signalling a return to growth. PMI improved from 46.7 in February to 55.8 in March, the strongest growth recorded since November 2016. PMI reached a low of 40.5 at the start of national lockdown in January. A score above 50 indicates growth.
The UK fintech sector has started 2021 with a bang after raising a record total of $2.9bn (£2.1bn) in the first quarter of the year, Yahoo Finance UK reports. Innovate Finance, the industry body representing UK fintech, says a total of 117 deals were struck across the industry, with investment levels up 153% compared the previous quarter, and 331% higher when compared to the same period last year, when the UK economy was in its first full month of lockdown. The investment this year so far - which includes six mega deals worth more than $100m each - represents 69% of total investment in 2020. They include Checkout.com ($450m), Starling Bank ($376m), Blockchain.com ($120m initially and then $300m), Rapyd ($300m), and PPRO Financial ($180m initially and then $90m).
More than £1 trillion in assets and about 7,400 staff have either been moved or are being moved by more than 440 banks, insurers and asset managers in response to Brexit, according to report by the New Financial thinktank, which expects a continuing ‘drip-feed’ of moves from Britain to European financial centres. Dublin is the clear winner in attracting business from the UK: New Financial said 135 firms have chosen the city as a post-Brexit location, ahead of Paris with 102, Luxembourg with 93, Frankfurt with 62 and 48 moves to Amsterdam. However, the thinktank expects London to remain the dominant financial centre in Europe for the foreseeable future and pointed out that even the biggest relocations so far only represent a maximum of 10% of an individual firm's headcount.
COVID-19 mortality rates are twice as high for people working on zero-hour contracts, according to a report by the Trades Union Congress (TUC).  The union said the male mortality rate in insecure occupations was 51 per 100,000 for those aged 20-64, compared with 24 per 100,000 in more secure jobs. The female mortality rate in insecure work was 25 per 100,000 people, compared with 13 per 100,000 for those in more secure occupations. The stats show workers such as nurses, care workers and delivery staff on zero-hour contracts or in casual work "were at a higher risk of death," the TUC report said, adding that those without contracts that guarantee regular hours or income face a "triple whammy of endemic low pay, few workplace rights and low or no sick pay."
In a letter published in the Telegraph, 38 leaders of Britain's biggest hospitality firms have called on prime minister Boris Johnson to stick with the current dates on the roadmap out of lockdown and not introduce vaccine passports. Signatories include the CEO/CFOs of JD Wetherspoon, Mitchells & Butlers, Fuller's, Young's, Pizza Hut, The Hut Group, The Restaurant Group, Greene King, Pub People, Revolution, Burger King, the Wahaca restaurant chain and Alton Towers owner Merlin. The letter pints out that two-thirds of hospitality venues "couldn't open outdoors from 12 April" and that "none is breaking even." The bosses urged the PM to rely on the dates rather than data saying: “it is safe to confirm now the reopening of indoor hospitality on 17 May and the lifting of all social-distancing restrictions on hospitality on 21 June," and that if this doesn’t happen, "many businesses will be unviable."
Gyms in Britain have taken a £3.1bn hit since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, with more losses expected as memberships decline, according to a study by Pharma Nord. Another £46.6m will also have been lost from the 1,164,000 people who might have been expected to join a gym in January 2021 because of New Year resolutions following Christmas indulgences.
Eurostar is said to have secured a deal with its lenders to refinance a debt pile worth £400m but is still hoping to secure financial backing from the UK government, the Telegraph reports. The government has previously ruled out state aid: in February, transport secretary Grant Shapps told ministers that the government is "very keen for Eurostar to survive" but that "it’s not our company."

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Mark Bourgeois, managing director of Hammerson in the UK and Ireland said footfall at its shopping centres was 60% higher this week than in the week after the first lockdown ended in June 2020. He told the BBC Radio 4 Today Programme: “It's been a really encouraging start,” saying shoppers felt safer because of the UK's successful vaccine programme and "there's more cash in people's pockets and they feel perhaps more confident to spend". The firm, whose shopping centres include Birmingham's Bullring, the Brent Cross shopping centre, The Oracle site in Reading and the Victoria Quarter in Leeds is also to cut rents for its retail tenants by 30% to make them ‘more affordable’ as the retail sector aims to recover from a year of lockdowns.
Asda owners Mohsin and Zuber Issa are reported to have struck a deal to snap up fast food chain Leon. The Mail on Sunday said Leon’s 70 restaurants across the UK and mainland Europe have been sold to the billionaire brothers’ giant petrol forecourt business, EG Group, for between £80million and £100million. EG Group – part-owned by private equity firm TDR Capital – is chaired by former Marks & Spencer chief executive Lord Rose, who is also chairman of food delivery firm Ocado. Leon was co-founded by Boris Johnson’s food tsar Henry Dimbleby.
Flutter Entertainment is considering a potential £150m sale of Oddschecker, which lets gamblers compare prices from different bookmaking brands, according to Sky News. The owner of Paddy Power and Betfair has hired investment bankers to work on a possible disposal of Oddschecker, which has had several owners since it was founded in 1999. Flutter bought Oddschecker when it acquired Stars Group in 2020.
Building materials distributor Grafton said on Friday that it could sell some or all of its traditional merchanting businesses in the UK. The company has hired Rothschild & Co to undertake a review focussing on the Buildbase, Civils & Lintels, PDM Buildbase, The Timber Group, Bathroom Distribution Group and NDI businesses.
Poundland's owner is snubbing London to pursue a €4.5bn (£3.9bn) listing in Warsaw after months of deliberations.  Sky News has learnt that Pepco Group, which trades from more than 3,000 stores across 15 European markets, has been swayed by its huge presence in Poland.
AstraZeneca has received clearance from the US Federal Trade Commission for its proposed acquisition of Alexion Pharmaceuticals. The acquisition has already received regulatory clearance in Canada, Brazil, and Russia, among others. Additional regulatory clearances are pending, including the UK, EU and Japan. The pharmaceuticals giant announced in December 2020 that it had agreed to buy Alexion in a $39bn deal to expand its scientific presence in immunology. It said at the time that the deal was expected to close in the third quarter of 2021, Sharecast News reported.
Australia reported its first fatality from blood-clots related to the AstraZeneca vaccine on Friday. The country's health regulator said that there was a likely link between the Covid-19 shot and the death of a 48-year-old woman, but that the review of the case was complicated by the patient's underlying medical conditions, including diabetes, as well as other medical conditions and some atypical features. At least 885,000 doses of AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in Australia to date, and the woman’s case was the third instance of the rare blood-clots appearing in people given the vaccine in Australia. The other two were recovering well, the Therapeutic Goods Administration added.
US investment bank Morgan Stanley has admitted that the collapse of hedge fund Archegos cost it nearly $1bn.The Wall Street bank said in its first-quarter results that the $911m (£660m) charge was related to losses at "a single prime brokerage client" that it later identified as Archegos.
Despite the Archegos hit, profits for the period were up 150%, with net profit coming in at $3.98bn, up from $1.59bn a year ago.
Barclays Plc’s membership in the American Sustainable Business Council has been terminated by the advocacy group over the bank’s decision to underwrite a municipal bond for two Alabama prisons owned by CoreCivic Inc., two years after saying it would no longer provide new financing to private prison companies. The council and partner organisation Social Venture Circle, which combined represent 250,000 businesses to advocate for responsible practices and policies, said they would refund Barclays’ membership dues. Barclays joined the group in 2019.
Facebook is to be sued in Europe over the mass data breach it suffered in 2019 that led to the personal information of over 533 million accounts being posted for free download on a hacker forum. Digital Rights Ireland announced on Friday that it would be commencing a "mass action" to sue the tech giant and cited the right to monetary compensation for breaches of personal data as set out in the European Union's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Information leaked included Facebook IDs, location, mobile phone numbers, email address, relationship status and employer. Ireland's Data Protection Commission (DPC) is Facebook's lead data regulator in the EU and will handle the case. Last December, the regulator announced a €450,000 sanction against Twitter for a data breach. Unlike Facebook, Twitter publicly disclosed the issue when it was detected in 2019; Facebook's failure to disclose the vulnerability and its attempt to play it down claiming the data was ‘old’ and false claims that it had fixed it the matter will likely lead to a higher sanction.  
Average asking prices for homes in the UK have soared to a new all-time high of £327,797, according to property website Rightmove. The average asking price rose by 2.1% (£6,733) over the last month, putting the average selling price more than £4,000 above the previous all-time high reached in October 2020.
The Guardian reports that environmental lawyers ClientEarth have accused some of the world’s biggest fossil fuel companies – including ExxonMobil, Aramco, Chevron, Shell, and Equinor have used advertising to “greenwash” their contribution to the “climate crisis.” The practice is “a great deception,”ClientEarth says. The firm is calling on policymakers to ban all fossil fuel company ads unless they come with tobacco-style health warnings about the risks of global heating to people and the planet.
BP Plc says it will spend some $1.3 billion building a network of pipes and other infrastructure to collect and capture natural gas produced as a by-product from oil wells in the Permian Basin of Texas and New Mexico, thereby eliminating the routine flaring of natural gas in the oil field by 2025, the Wall Street Journal reports.
Financier Amanda Staveley has begun an appeal following the defeat of her High Court legal action case against Barclays in February. She is challenging the court’s decision not to award her damages. Staveley's firm, PCP Capital Partners, sued the bank for more than £600m, claiming other parties in Barclays' 2008 multi-billion-pound fundraising received better terms. The court found that the bank acted with “deceit” after hearing of complaints about the conduct of senior bosses, but the judge declined her claim.
David Einhorn, President of Greenlight Capital, one of the US's most prominent hedge fund managers, has criticised US regulators for weak or no enforcement of market rules in a year when "strange things happened to all kinds of stocks." He highlighted the GameStop share frenzy, which involved day traders organising online to push up the shares some 2000% in January, to hurt hedge funds holding short positions on the company. Einhorn singled out Tesla boss Elon Musk, who fuelled the rally by tweeting ‘Gamestonk!” saying:  "The laws don't apply to him and he can do whatever he wants." He also criticised US lawmakers for leaving regulators unable to police markets properly because of lack of funding, saying: "Many who would never support defunding the police have supported - and for all intents and purposes have succeeded - in almost completely defanging, if not defunding, the regulators. For the most part, quasi-anarchy appears to rule in the markets."
Dogecoin has soared almost 200% to a new-all time high of $0.3922 (£0.28), riding a broader wave of interest in cryptocurrencies that has been cresting in recent days. Dogecoin started as a joke in 2013 but now has a market cap of more than $50bn, putting it in the top 10 most valuable cryptocurrencies when measured by market capitalisation, and above several major banks such as Barclays, which has a market cap of $44 billion. The price of Dogecoin first began surging at the beginning of the year after Tesla founder Elon Musk began tweeting about it. On Thursday, he tweeted: "Doge Barking at the Moon."
The price of bitcoin descended from record highs on Friday following a decision by The Central Bank of the Republic of Turkey to prohibit either the direct or indirect use of cryptocurrencies and other crypto assets as a payment. The ban will come into force from 30 April this year.
“Zoom fatigue” is officially a thing, according to Yahoo Finance UK, which reports that global investment bank Citigroup has banned work video calls on Fridays in an attempt to help employees escape the relentlessness of the "pandemic workday." Last year, the Texas-based company SailPoint Technologies Holdings Inc instituted a ban on meetings from 10am to noon every Tuesday and Thursday, and a Harvard Business School study found work-from-home employees are working longer hours and attending 13% more meetings than ever before, albeit virtually.

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